Dear Vicki: My husband recently retired from running his own construction business and has gone off the deep end DOING things, including landscaping our yard. He is obsessed with envisioning, planning, shopping, building, completing. We have new decks, new gardens, a new trellis, you name it. He creates deadlines for himself, too, as if this is his job now. He has no other topics of conversation other than his ideas for the yard and I feel like he’s really overdoing it. The other thing that bothers me is that before he retired, I was in charge of the gardening; it was my world. But now he has taken over. He even waters my plants! I get the feeling that he’s laying a claim: now that he’s retired, his world will be outside and mine will be inside. But I love my garden! I don’t want to stay inside! What can I do? Signed, Desperate
Dear Desperate: Retirement often changes a great deal in a couple’s dynamic. Roles can change, timing of meals can change, even where they live can change. The goal is to approach the changes in a balanced way, and that may not be happening for your husband right now. From a Five Elements perspective, it sounds like he may have too much Wood energy. All that you say he’s doing (envisioning, planning, building, completing) are wonderful aspects of Wood and were probably very important when he had his construction business. You don’t mention what you think his primary element is, but he’s probably a Wood personality; it’s a good element for running a business. And now that he’s retired, he probably doesn’t have the same outlets for his Wood that he used to, so it makes sense that he might seek out new ways of expressing it, including building things in your garden. However, while balanced Woods are definitely focused, they’re usually not obsessed. This makes me rather certain that he’s out of balance with too much Wood energy. So let’s see what we can do.
In the Five Element model, it is Metal’s job to keep Wood energy in check because Wood and Metal relate to each other via the Controlling Cycle with Metal controlling Wood. This means to address his excess Wood energy he needs more Metal energy. You can try to help him build his own Metal by wearing: 1) the color white; 2) a hematite pendant; and/or 3) lemon essential oil on his skin. Or you can use your Metal to moderate his Wood. Since you understand how to work with the elements and he may not, it’s probably going to be easier for you to use your Metal to help balance his Wood. It will also be an important part of your relationship dynamic going forward, and it won’t be that hard for you to do.
Dear Vicki: I just read your excellent post on help for a Metal husband and Fire wife and I wonder if you could comment on the variation I think I have going on. I am a Fire/Earth and use Wood for structure. My partner is Metal, but he is an artist so I think there’s a fair amount of Water in there, too. Anyway, we’re having problems. I drive him nuts with all my home projects and inability to sit still for a whole movie or TV show. He drives me nuts with his laser-focused attention that resents interruption whether working or relaxing. He doesn’t understand why it bothers me when he doesn’t answer a question. He decides if he thinks it needs an answer, and if he doesn’t think so, he is mum. I’ve tried to be patient with him because he recently lost a close friend, but it’s not working. I worry he might be pulling back. When we first got together, I felt our Earths bond strongly, but over time this has become intermittent. When stressed, I am drawn outdoors where I work on significant flower and vegetable gardens and a flock of chickens and a few fish in the pond. He hates gardening and yard work. Maybe you could suggest another way to bring up his Earth? Signed: Nuts in Nevada
Dear Nuts in Nevada: This is an excellent question. On the surface, it does seem like the information offered last week to a Fire/Metal couple should fit for you and your partner. However, I believe that there are more differences between the two couples than similarities. First, I suspect that you are really an Earth/Fire, not a primary Fire. My reasoning for this is that when stressed, Fires rarely seek solace outside with gardens, chickens, and fish. Instead, they usually seek events with other people where they can feed their need for excitement and connection. So your question is more about making a relationship work between an Earth/Fire and a Metal/Water. And I can tell you right up front that more Earth energy isn’t going to help, so let’s look at what will.
First, as with most relationships, it’s important to understand the underlying dynamics between you and your partner. In fact, it is more important in your relationship than with many others. As you know, your Earth will feel good to his Metal because Earth feeds Metal on the Nurturing Cycle. Metals expect this from Earths. However, your Earth relates to his secondary Water via the Controlling Cycle (Earth directs Water). More importantly, your secondary Fire relates to his primary Metal on the Controlling Cycle, (Fire melts Metal). That isn’t going to feel good to him at all. But turnabout is fair play, because his secondary Water relates to your secondary Fire via the Controlling Cycle (Water puts out Fire).
The takeaway from all of this is that the only Nurturing Cycle connection in your whole primary/secondary relationship complex is your Earth feeding his Metal. Every other connection you have with him is via the Controlling Cycle. Your Earth controls his Water, your Fire controls his Metal, and his Water controls your Fire.
Dear Vicki: I found your blog after searching for relationship tips between the elemental types! I know I am dominantly Fire with Wood, and my husband Jim is dominantly Metal. We have been together 10 years and there are times I still don’t feel close to him or understand how to connect with him. His “metal-ness” of being so rigid and structured confuses me a lot and I am not sure what the best way to connect with him is. At times I feel like he disapproves or judges me, and decides I am too silly! Last year our marriage was in a serious crisis and I have worked hard to bring my Fire back in control to be in the marriage and am seeking ways on how we can strengthen our bond. Any advice for a Fire and Metal marriage? Signed: Fire/Wood Wondering
Dear Fire/Wood: There are many ways to strengthen the bonds between people, and almost all of them require that both parties maintain open channels of communication and are willing to take the time to understand each other. The beauty of using the Five Elements model with relationships is that it not only helps us understand each other and our relationship dynamics, it also helps us identify the communication style that will work best with each of the elements. Let’s look at your relationship dynamics with Jim first because they do set the stage for everything else.
You and Jim relate via the Controlling Cycle, with your Fire controlling his Metal. As you probably know from being married to him for ten years, Metals are serious people who value order and structure. On the other hand, Fires are playful people who value enjoying life. Because your Fire controls his Metal, Jim probably feels threatened when you are too fiery (which he could easily see as “silly”). Fire people usually have little structure (in nature, fire is simply heat made visible) and are fine being playful and going where the moment takes them. When this happens, Metal will often up its game around Fire to bring more structure to a situation they perceive as chaos. But to a Fire, fun is never chaos, it’s just pure joy. This is likely one reason why Jim’s behavior often confuses you.
Dear Vicki: My brother’s wife pasted away two years ago and he really took it hard. It was like the light and joy went out of his life; my funny and outgoing brother became somber and cynical. He used to be the life of the party, but for a while he was pretty morose. Then several months ago, he finally begun dating and recently brought a woman (I’ll call her Hanna) to a family birthday party. We wanted to be excited for him, but Hanna was unpleasantly pushy and opinionated. Most members of my family are elementary school teachers, so we enjoy harmonious environments when not working, but this party ended up far from congenial. Hanna disagreed with my mother about when to start cooking a casserole (Mom is an excellent cook!) and questioned another sibling’s opinion about a movie. I think my brother could tell things weren’t going well because he stopped joking around halfway through the evening, then he and Hanna left early. I want my brother to be happy, but if Hanna is going to be part of the family, how are we ever going to get along? Signed, Overwhelmed in Ohio
Dear Overwhelmed: It’s good news that your brother has started dating again. The loss of a loved one is a difficult event to get over, and it can be especially hard for someone with a Fire personality like your brother. Fire people thrive on fun and excitement, but when they suffer a loss, their Fire quite literally goes out and it can take some time for the joy to come back. It isn’t surprising that Hanna was the person that relit his Fire, either. In the Five Elements model, the element that feeds (and therefore builds) Fire on the Nurturing Cycle is Wood, and Hanna is clearly a Wood personality. Wood energy is outgoing and accomplishment-driven which often makes Wood people seem pushy and opinionated.
On the other hand, I think you and many of your family members are Earth personalities. Earth people make great teachers, they revel in peace and harmony, and a loved one’s happiness will always matter. However, Earth relates to Wood on the Controlling Cycle, with Wood controlling Earth. That means that a room full of Earths could well feel overwhelmed by Hanna’s Wood energy. It’s no wonder that many of you were uncomfortable.
As far as all of you getting along with Hanna, that may be a non-issue because it’s quite possible your brother’s new relationship won’t last very long. Too much Fire for a constant length of time can literally burn out a Wood. If that happens, Hanna will most likely move on to calmer relationships. However, if the Fire doesn’t get too crazy, Woods can enjoy the upbeat atmosphere of life with a Fire, so Hanna could be around for the long haul. But don’t worry, there are ways for you to get along with Hanna and, who knows, maybe even like her!
Dear Vicki: Last September, my husband and I were in a serious car accident. We both survived and have recovered completely, but for six or seven months, life was a blur of hospitals, medicines, doctors appointments, and physical therapy. Initially, we seemed closer than ever. My husband Frank managed all the little details of the appointments, pharmaceuticals, live-in care, etc. for both of us. I didn’t have to worry about anything except keeping our hope alive and trying to stay optimistic. It all worked great, too, until we got back to “normal” the beginning of summer. Now, Frank seems preoccupied with his work and barely notices me, and I have to admit I’m feeling pretty depressed about everything. When we do interact, we disagree and fight. How could we have made it through the tough times and now be falling apart? Signed: Down in Denver
Dear Down in Denver: It’s not uncommon to tough it out during a crisis and then fall apart afterward. It’s very instinctive to focus all of our resources on survival, but that leaves us depleted when the crisis passes. This certainly happened for you and Frank, not only physically, but also emotionally. You pulled together when you had to, made it though, and now are each retreating within yourselves to rebuild your resources. The good news is that each of you will likely build your stamina and zest for life back to pre-accident levels by the first anniversary of the accident. That happens automatically when we take care of ourselves and give ourselves time to heal. The concerning news is that healing after a trauma is not necessarily automatic for a relationship. You may need to help it along, so let’s look at what can be done to get you and Frank back to your pre-accident connection.
You don’t mention where you think you and Frank fall within the Five Elements model, but you have given us some excellent clues. The fact that Frank was good at managing all the details of your respective recoveries suggests that he has a lot of Metal energy in his personality. Metal people are excellent with detail; organizing minutia actually makes them happy. Your gift to the joint recovery process was optimism and hope. These are natural places to go for someone with a lot of Water energy in their personality. We also see your primary elements manifesting in out of balance ways after the crisis abated. When unbalanced, Metals can become unreasonably focused on work and dismiss anything unrelated, and Waters can easily become depressed.